Submitted by Howard B. Owens on May 28, 2014 - 6:00am
It's been a litigious year so far for the City of Batavia, so the City Council is being asked to vote on a budget amendment that would increase legal spending by $71,733.
About $50,000 of that expense is related various lawsuits and Article 78 claims, including the ongoing legal battle between the City and the Mall Merchants Association (the city is both being sued and suing).
City Manager Jason Molino didn't say what portion of that $50,000 in extra litigation expense is because of the mall lawsuits.
"The amount of litigation can't be predicted," City Manager Jason Molino told the council. "I can't tell you how many claims we're going to get. For example, we've had three more claims in just the past week."
The City Council will be asked to vote on the budget amendment at it's next business meeting in two weeks.
Claims and legal matters against the city range from snowplows knocking over mailboxes to tax assessment challenges.
"Unfortunately, we live in a litigious environment," Molino said. "Two things: one, anybody can sue for anything; two, a municipality, I think, is usually a higher target than most because they're viewed as having an unlimited amount of resources. That's the nature of being in this country and the nature of being a municipality. As long as we own property as a municipality, as long as we provide services, we're going to be the subject of litigation regardless of the merit."
While the city has been subject to some claims Molino characterized as meritless, there has been other litigation -- such as Terry Platt and Platt Properties' Article 78 action over his planned rooming house on East Main Street -- that might have more substance.
Each case, whether frivolous or serious, generates not only legal fees, but staff time for research and investigation, Molino said.
"With any claim, there's an assessment that's done internally to understand the risk, to understand the city's exposure, understand the merit of the city's case, understand the merit of the city's position, versus the merit, or in many cases, the lack of merit, of the opposing party," Molino said. "In all of those circumstances, we do that analysis to understand how do we resolve this amicably and how do we resolve it in our best interest."
Another $28,000 of the city's extra legal expenses have been related to redevelopment projects, such the Carr's Warehouse building and the Della Penna property.
The city's annual legal expenses include the city's attorney, George Van Ness and his law firm, outside council on specific cases, labor relations counsel and prosecution of code violations.
Molino didn't have a count available of how many individual cases the city has handled so far in 2014.
Molino said there have been years of fewer legal cases and years of an even greater volume of claims against the city, which is why, he said, legal expenditures are always hard to nail down at budget time.
Also not available is how much the city has spent on legal services over the six years it's been in some form of legal battle with the Mall Merchants Association.